“Example has more followers than reason. We unconsciously imitate what pleases us, and approximate to the characters we most admire.” – Christian Nestell Bovee
We all love a good story. And by good, I don’t simply mean popular, or timeless, or happy-ending-guaranteed, or because it was created by our favourite writer/ producer. Sure, what each of us classifies as a ‘good’ story may have one or more (and possibly all) of the above, but I think what makes a good story, is not what entertains us the most … but what inspires us the most.
And the greatest of inspirations always have, and always will, come from the characters.
But what, exactly, makes a fictional character inspiring? Really, though, the better question to ask would be, what is it about a character that inspires you? Every person relates to a story and its characters differently.
When reading a book, or watching a movie/ series (or even playing a game), our own personalities and personal experiences come into context and alter the point of view we have of the characters coming to life before us. One character’s behaviour may frustrate some people to no end; others may be highly entertained by their attitudes and actions; while still others may feel a mutual connection and end up being inspired by that particular character’s journey through the story (even if it’s not a main character).
The inspiration a reader/ viewer experiences may come from just one particular quality a character portrays … but in a lot of cases, there are multiple ones that end up stirring within us emotions, contemplations, and even revelations.
All characters have faults and virtues. Some people find inspiration from the virtuous traits, others from the flaws, and the reasons why vary to quite an extent. One reader could be inspired by a Hero’s fearlessness and trust is his own ability (perhaps because they strive to be more like that in their own lives), while another reader may find an equal amount of inspiration from that same Hero’s struggle with anger or guilt from a past event/ upbringing/ betrayal/ or whatever (perhaps because, for them, anger and guilt issues have been a personal struggle too).
Captain Nathan Algren is a good example of this type of character.
Usually, though, we end up finding inspiration from both sides. Sometimes, it’s about the endurance of a character’s honourable nature; other times it’s a character’s already fallen standing followed by the journey they take that transforms a part of them for the better. Sometimes we even find inspiration from a do-everything-right type of character learning that doing what they would normally consider ‘wrong’ is sometimes necessary for the greater good. The opposite holds true, too; a do-whatever-they-like type of character learning that stepping outside of themselves, even to their own detriment, comes with its own reward.
The humanity reflected through these fictional characters is what draws us to them. Every created character in a story has a value that should not be (ignorantly) undermined or (immaturely) ridiculed. They are who they are because that is how they are meant to be. Some readers/ viewers may loathe the qualities of a certain character, but for others, that character is an inspiration; a reminder of whom they once were, or from what they’ve come from, or perhaps what they’re still working through or dealing with.
Inspirations come from many different places in the spectrum of fictional characters, and from many different perspectives. As audiences to the stories these individuals undertake, we need to remind ourselves of what makes them inspiring (or abhorrent) not only to us, but also to others. And to learn to appreciate a character for what they are (that, of course, doesn’t mean you have to like them if you already don’t – but you can learn to appreciate them).
Like this guy! (one of my personal un-favourites)
Ask yourself what draws you to your favourite fictional characters? What qualities about them inspire you? If you really don’t like a particular character from a story, why not take a moment to work out why. And perhaps even challenge yourself into working out what inspiring qualities others see in characters that you don’t particular like.
It probably won’t take you long to discover that the way we view different fictional characters, is actually a pretty accurate way we look at other people in real life. And there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that. Difference is what makes the world a more interesting place! And that’s a law that governs both fantasy and reality.
So, why don’t you make a list sometime of your favourite stories, and then pick out your favourite characters from them and write down what you find inspiring about them! You may actually be surprised, or even enlightened, by the results – especially if you take the time to work out why.
“We have created characters and animated them in the dimension of depth, revealing through them to our perturbed world that the things we have in common far outnumber and outweigh those that divide us.”
– Walt Disney